So it's a big month for D&D. The latest announcement and Unearthed Arcana are A LOT, and we wanted to use this opportunity to dive in and talk about these latest changes.
For those who don't know, Wizards of the Coast are planning to re-release the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters Guide as updated versions in 2024. This is not intended to be a 6th edition of the game, but is instead meant to modernize off of the framework of 5e to create a single vision for D&D moving forward (hence the name "One D&D"). For more information from the source, you can check out the announcement FAQ page here.
But what we're going to focus on is the actual Unearthed Arcana (i.e. playtest) rules that we got. The first playtest packet focuses on Character Origins, i.e. those things that define your character that aren't your class (race, background, etc.). So let's jump in and look at those things that we really liked, the things that were so-so, and the things we didn't like so much.
Overall this playtest has a lot of interesting things to try, and a couple huge wins that we've been looking for in official material for some time now.
ASIs Have Moved. Character creation is now more evenly weighted across your choice of Race and Background, with Backgrounds providing you starting Ability Score Increases (or ASIs). This is a great change that D&D has been building towards for some time (see the ASI flexibility in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything), and it's great to see it a part of the official core rules. This is definitely a keep-worthy change.
The "d20 Test". This is the new phrasing adopted for specifying "attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks". Basically, any important d20 roll in the game can now be blanketly referred to as a "d20 Test". This isn't really anything to celebrate for your average player or DM, but for content creators and rules writers it's a blessing. This will make text much MUCH easier to write and parse when a mechanic wants to interact with all three of the rolls that comprise d20 Tests.
Humans are good! And we don't mean the alignment way! Part of what this playtest has are updated rules for all of the PHB races (and some new ones). These are meant to be more in line with recent mechanics, and the Humans have particularly needed it. +1 to all abilities and some extra languages are incredibly boring traits, which basically forced everyone away from normal humans and into the Van Richten lineages or more human-presenting fantasy races. No humans get an extra level 1 feat (more on leveled feats later), an extra skill proficiency, and they interact with the brand new Inspiration mechanics, granting themselves an automatic point of Inspiration at the end of each long rest. Inspiration now fades on long rests, so this is a big deal to get a guaranteed advantage roll to start your day! And it jives well with the classic "versatile and flexible" promise of humans in a fantasy setting.
Lucky us, the Lucky Feat is fixed. Before the Lucky feat used to give you an extra dice on top of a roll, and it let you choose which of the dice to pick for your final result. This meant spending a Luck point turned Advantage or Disadvantage both into Super Mega Advantage, which was irritating for rules lawyers and DMs alike. Now the feat grants you advantage with a point spend, so you can't double down on advantage, nor can you do weird dice tricks with disadvantage. You can still spend it to force your enemies to have disadvantage against you, and you get luck points per day equal to your proficiency bonus. So the weird hacky powers of the feat are gone, and the now normalized, proper feat gets more uses per day. All around a great fix.
Backgrounds are Custom By Default. Rather than having pre-prescribed skill, language, or tool proficiencies, the Backgrounds are now designed for you to pick out exactly what you want and really tailor the background to your character's story. The PDF includes some sample backgrounds (more on that later in the other sections), but none of them are doing anything you couldn't do yourself. This is because the more specialized, narrative features of backgrounds have been replaced with level 1 Feats (more on that later as well).
Level 1 Feats. And By later I mean now XD. Feats now have a Level in addition to their prerequisites. In order to take a feat, your character level must be equal to or greater than the Feat's level. This is a great sign of things to come since it's starting to emphasize power progression in a mechanic that was previously a big grab-bag of theoretically equivalent features. Feat Trees, Higher Level Powers, and all kinds of cool stuff could be hiding behind this in future Unearthed Arcana.
Languages. Specifically three new additions to the Standard and Rare languages you can choose for character creation: Common Sign Language, Druidic, and Thieves' Cant. This is incredible! At long last sign language is a fully supported part of the core game. And it's always been annoying to have to take that one level dip in rogue for your Criminal Background character to actually speak in cant. Having druidic as an option could open up the door for some really cool stories, like Rangers that are part of a circle, or Sorcerers schooled in the ways of druids.
These are the things that struck as as... okay. Maybe they just don't win us over on first blush and will take more time, or maybe they feel like a horizontal change we could take or leave. They don't spoil the fun, but they aren't making us love this stuff either.
The Name. Yes, it makes total sense from a branding perspective. There is only going to be "one D&D" from now one - no more editions. But it's just impossible to say with any sort of gusto. Here's our suggestion: "D&D Eternal". You're welcome.
Ardlings. Several changes to races occurred in their translation from the original 2014 PHB versions to these new One D&D / D&D 5.5 forms. But one thing stood out straight away - a new race called Ardlings, who are the celestial / upper-planes counterparts to Tieflings. Tielfings, by the way, got an update to be able to represent any fiendish lineage, not just devils / the hells. So these humanoids with animal heads and blessings from the positive planes can similarly align to the planes of Lawful, Chaotic, or Neutral Good as you desire. However, it feels very odd to have this happen when... well we just got a new version of Aasimar rules in Monsters of the Multiverse. Did we really need another, different celestial race, and specifically one that seems to be pulling double duty as the defacto animal-human-hybrid? Nothing about this race is bad per se, it's just odd to see it.
Backgrounds Use Feats. The new feats are a Critical Hit so far, but having Backgrounds use them as their primary bonus is a bit of a give and take. The classic background features that were more narrative, like Folk Hero making NPCs enjoy your presence and give you shelter by default, were far more flavorful and unique. However, they often ran out of steam outside of lower levels, or never even paid off since the campaign didn't utilize their themes or mechanics. Using Feats gives backgrounds more long-term potency in the game, and the level 1 feat limitation keeps them from being to min-max-able. This change has good reasons, but its bittersweet to lose the more unique background identities of yester-5e.
The Slowed Condition. A new condition! This is in the glancing blows category more out of skepticism than anything. It's a good condition with neat mechanics, but we just want to see it in play more before giving it a full thumbs up or down.
Grapple Changes. Grappling is completely different now. The spirit is the same, but the rules have changed drastically. First off, the condition is different. It still limits movement, but it also forces disadvantage on attacks you make except against your grappler. So the condition itself got a buff, but now grapples begin and end completely differently. Instead of replacing your attack with a contested grapple check, imposing a grapple is something you can do instead of doing damage when you hit with an unarmed strike (ditto for Shove). And now escaping the grapple is a Strength or Dexterity save made at the end of the grappled creatures turn for free. It's an interesting change, and one that we're not totally sold on. We like the buffed status effect, and it always did suck to have to dedicate your entire action to escaping when imposing a grapple could be done with just an attack. But removing Athletics and Acrobatics from combat relevance feels like a misstep. Is the game going to move towards fewer skills being combat relevant and firmly leaving them in the Exploration and Roleplay pillars? The bad here isn't enough to spoil the good, but it's enough that we aren't sold on this change.
Nat 20's and 1's. Now saving throws and ability checks are beholden to the almighty nat 20 and nat 1. Nat 1's are always a fail, and 20's are always a success, regardless of modifiers. This actually feels like a fine change since this is how most people probably play in their hearts anyway, and it also firmly codifies the idea that "if a nat 20 wouldn't succeed, then there shouldn't be a roll". Rolls should actually matter, which means the chances of success and failure must exist, regardless of modifiers. This feels like a good change, but we'd like to see it in practice before giving it the full stamp of approval.
Magic Source Categories. There are now (at least) three sources of magic: Arcane, Divine, and Primal. Primal is used by Druids and Rangers, and will sound very familiar to players of Pathfinder 2e. Overall this is okay, but it raises our hackles a bit since the spell lists were divided into those broad categories. Are class spell lists going away? If so, why? This feels like it could be inviting more mess and confusion, and ultimately like it's a solution looking for a problem.
These are the things we did not like at all in this playtest packet.
Racial Languages and Sample Background Faux Pas. There's been a lot of talk about changing D&D for the better in matters of race and inclusion. Moving ASIs out of the Race benefits and into Background (what you do determines what you're good at, not your lineage or birth) is a meaningful and good step in the right direction away from bioessentialism. However, the presence of racial languages and specifically their stereotypical selections in the Sample Backgrounds is a big step backwards for this material. We'd like to see more care and consideration put into the core rules moving forward.
No Critical Hits!? Crits are now exclusive to weapon attacks and unarmed strikes, and they also don't affect dice except for the weapon damage dice. No sneak attack crits, and no paladin smite crits. This is... just bad. It's a faltering attempt to normalize damage in 5e, but was this even a problem to begin with? Crits are deadly at low levels, but they are also fun. This also attempts to even the playing field for damage between martials and casters by depriving spell attacks of crits, but in the same stroke they defanged rogue crits. Monsters not critting means that DMs are left out of the fun as well. Not only does this break an immense amount of features throughout the body of 5e content, but it's also horribly un-fun. This change should be left behind and forgotten.
Unarmed Strikes Still Aren't Weapon Attacks. The campaign to make Monkadins not a thing continues as the rules of Unarmed Strikes not being the same as Weapon Attacks are doubled-down on. The clarity in these rules is appreciated, but it's an annoyance that goes opposite of d20 Test because now we have to constantly say "weapon attacks and unarmed strikes" since they are called out so separately. Stop the madness and just let the game treat these two things the same.
What do you think?
Let us know in the comments or on social media what you think! Our lead designer, @Krasiph, will also be putting out a ton of #OneDND content over on TikTok, so go follow them and join in on the conversation!